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The Breakthrough Agency.

How the JH team celebrated Black History Month

Hear from Dwayne Codling, our Frontend Developer, on how he encouraged our remote team to celebrate Black History Month together and inspired us all…

Let’s mention first, that I am personally looking to change the current levels of underrepresented black professionals in the tech industry, particularly in a Leadership position.

You cannot be what you cannot see, and I want to be a role model, especially to my two little black boys who look up to me.

All that being said, I wanted to write about the last month in particular, October, the month in the UK where we celebrate Black History.

“Let’s mention first, that I am personally looking to change the current levels of underrepresented black professionals in the tech industry, particularly in a Leadership position. You cannot be what you cannot see, and I want to be a role model, especially to my two little black boys who look up to me.”

Dwayne Codling, Frontend Developer at JH

Some home truths; I have never celebrated black history month in the UK, even though it started way back in 1989, and I have been in the UK since 2002. I cannot remember a time when it was a thing I celebrated. It’s not like Halloween that’s openly celebrated by all, it seems Black History Month has always been an under the radar thing. I wanted this month to be different.

Recent events have highlighted the fight for racial equality, and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. What better time to bring BHM into the mainstream and celebrate the lives of Black People than right now?

This year, being in lockdown, it was important I celebrated Black History Month not just with friends and family, but with the team at JH too. So for 31 days straight, I have been sharing black people who inspire me with my work colleagues on the company’s Slack channel and sharing these inspirational black individuals’ history, stories, books, movies and videos. 

It seemed like an easy enough task as I somewhat have a trump card of being a black person who loves history. At first, it was easy, as I knew about most of the Black Americans historical figures that we see posted about every year. But then I felt I could go deeper, so I focused on finding other inspirational black people whose stories are not in the mainstream, focusing on the UK, Africa, Caribbean and US from different eras past and present.

I learnt a lot more and shared these incredible stories, but there was a point where I felt somewhat self-conscious about bombarding my work colleagues on Slack every day at 7:30am with a post about black individuals lives, stories and histories. Most of my colleagues are white, and some of these figures and events are brand new to them.

It was on day 19 where I felt like something needed to change. Me being that one black guy singing the praise hymn out aloud in church annoying the heck out of everyone else. I don’t like that guy, just saying!

So I just ask everyone a simple question,

“Today marks day 19 of Black History Month, though I think I have been celebrating this with everyone, I do feel like I am the only guy at the party so here’s the challenge from tomorrow until the end of Black History Month. I would appreciate it if you could find time to join in by highlighting someone black that has inspired you. That is all.”

“Today marks day 19 of Black History Month, though I think I have been celebrating this with everyone, I do feel like I am the only guy at the party so here’s the challenge from tomorrow until the end of Black History Month. I would appreciate it if you could find time to join in by highlighting someone black that has inspired you. That is all.”

Dwayne Codling, Frontend Developer, JH

It’s crazy how things work when you show vulnerability. The responses I got led me to have one of the best feelings I have ever had working at any company.

I felt like I was celebrating with everyone else that posted and took the time to talk about what black person inspired them and why they inspired them. It was all digital, but the feelings that came over me could not have been more real.

It caused a pivotal shift in my mindset. It was not about me as the only black person pushing the message, but everyone that I worked with who took part also had black people they wanted to celebrate and looked upon as inspirational. 

I was in awe of some of the stories and people that got posted, and I learnt so much more by having more people involved. I don’t think words can truly express how it made me feel; it made me appreciate my colleagues more and saw them as like-minded individuals.

That gave me the boost to carry on researching and posting and sharing, and not only did it inspire me to continue, but it also made me think how truly lucky I am to work where I work. 

The people I work with care about what black people of colour have gone through. As a black person, because I know they see other black people as inspirational, I am content to relax more at work, rather than constantly being mindful of how others see me and feeling the need to overcompensate. I can just continue to be me, I need not fit in a mould or be another clone, they can appreciate what they see, what I am, which is also a black person.

Here is my list of inspiring black people and stories, along with the ones contributed by my colleagues at JH. Hope you find this as educational as I have, on so many levels: 

1/31  Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan

The Black Ladies of NASA – Who are depicted in the book ‘Hidden Figures’.

See also “Mercury 13” about female pilots who fought to be considered for the space program.

2/31 Madam C. J. Walker, née Sarah Breedlove

(born December 23, 1867, near Delta, Louisiana, U.S.—died May 25, 1919, Irvington, New York), American businesswoman and philanthropist who was one of the first African American female millionaires in the United States.

3/31 James Baldwin

An iconic author for our time, a writer who gave the world countless poignant essays, short stories, novels, plays, and poems during his 63 years.

As a gay Black man coming to terms with his identity in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, Baldwin—who died on December 1, 1987—used his distinct perspective and lyrical writing to shed light on issues of race, homosexuality, and religion in a way that placed him ahead of his time for social commentary.

4/31 Ruby Bridges

At the tender age of six, Ruby Bridges advanced the cause of civil rights in November 1960 when she became the first African American student to integrate an elementary school in the South.

5/31 Bantu Stephen Biko

(18 December 1946–12 September 1977) was a South African anti-apartheid activist. Ideologically an African nationalist and African socialist, he was at the forefront of a grassroots anti-apartheid campaign known as the Black Consciousness Movement during the late 1960s and 1970s.

6/31 Phiona Mutesi

(born c. 1996) is an Ugandan chess player. At nine she could neither read nor write and had dropped out of school, when she met an Ugandan missionary, Robert Katende, who offered to teach her the game of chess–a sport so foreign in Uganda that there is no word for it in Phiona’s native language–and how in just four years she had become an international chess champion. She has represented Uganda at four Women’s Chess Olympiads and is one of the first titled female players in Ugandan chess history. Mutesi is the subject of a 2012 book and a 2016 film called Queen of Katwe.

7/31 Korey Wise

(born July 26, 1972) is an American activist who travels the United States advocating for criminal justice reform. Wise shares his stories of being wrongfully convicted in the Central Park jogger case (along with Raymond Santana Jr., Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, and Yusef Salaam) for the attack on Trisha Meili, a 28-year-old white woman who was jogging in Central Park, and attacks on eight other people on the night of April 19, 1989. Wise spent approximately 14 years incarcerated, maintaining his innocence from 1989 until they exonerated him in 2002.

8/31 Alvin Ailey

Founder of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Born 1931 in Rogers, Texas, at the height of the Great Depression in the violently racist and segregated south during his youth. Abandoned by his father when he was three months old, it forced Ailey and his mother to work in cotton fields and as domestics in white homes—the only employment available to them. As an escape, Ailey found refuge in the church, sneaking out at night to watch adults dance, and in writing a journal, a practice that he maintained his entire life.

9/31 Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison became the first and, presently, the only Black woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

10/31 William Edward Burghardt Du Bois

(February 23, 1868–August 27, 1963) was an American sociologist, socialist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, writer and editor.

Du Bois also wrote incisively on the black condition, including the observation that blacks have a double consciousness. “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

11/31 Marsha P. Johnson

Was an American gay liberation activist and self-identified drag queen. Known as an outspoken advocate for gay rights, Johnson was one of the prominent figures in the Stonewall uprising of 1969.

12/31 Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

(born 22 August 1967) is an English actor, director, and former fashion model.

Akinnuoye-Agbaje was born in Islington, London, to Nigerian parents of Yoruba origin, who were students in the UK. When he was six weeks old, his biological parents gave him up to a white working-class family in Tilbury, Essex. His foster parents had at least ten African children, including Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s two sisters, living in their house at certain points. His foster father made a living as a lorry driver and struggled to support the family financially.

13/31 Leighton Rhett Radford “Darcus” Howe

(26 February 1943 – 1 April 2017) was a British broadcaster, writer, and racial justice campaigner. Originally from Trinidad, Howe arrived in England as a teenager intending to study law. There he joined the British Black Panthers, a group named in sympathy with the US Black Panther Party. He came to public attention in 1970 as one of the “Mangrove Nine”, who marched to the police station in Notting Hill, London, to protest against police raids of the Mangrove restaurant, and again in 1981 when he organised a 20,000-strong “Black People’s Day of Action” in protest at the handling of the investigation into the New Cross Fire, in which 13 black teenagers died.

14/31 Dr Harold Moody

Harold Moody was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1882, the son of pharmacist Charles Ernest Moody and his wife Christina Emmeline Ellis. He completed his secondary education at Wolmer’s Schools In 1904; he sailed to the United Kingdom to study medicine at King’s College London, finishing top of his class when he qualified in 1910, aged 28. Having been refused work because of his colour, he started his own medical practice in Peckham, south-east London, in February 1913.

15/31 The Windrush Generation

After World War II, many African-Caribbean people migrated to North America and Europe, especially to the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands. Because of the losses during the war, the British government encouraged mass immigration from the countries of the British Empire and Commonwealth to fill shortages in the labour market. The British Nationality Act 1948 gave Citizenship of the UK and Colonies to all people living in the United Kingdom and its colonies, and the right of entry and settlement in the UK. Better prospects attracted many West Indians in what we often referred to as the mother country.

16/31 Sheku Kanneh-Mason MBE

(born 4 April 1999) is a British cellist who won the 2016 BBC Young Musician award. He was the first black musician to win the competition since its launch in 1978.

17/31 Minnie Julia Riperton Rudolph

(November 8, 1947 – July 12, 1979) was an American singer-songwriter best known for her 1975 single “Lovin’ You” and her five-octave coloratura soprano range. She is also widely known for her use of the whistle register and has been referred to by the media as the “Queen of the whistle register”.

18/31 Mansa Musa

Musa I (c. 1280 – c. 1337), or Mansa Musa, was the tenth Mansa (which translates to “sultan”, “conqueror”[2] or “emperor” of the Mali Empire, an Islamic West African state. We have described him as the wealthiest individual of the Middle Ages.

19/31 Haile Selassie I

Alternative Titles: Ras Tafari, Tafari Makonnen

Haile Selassie I, original name Tafari Makonnen, (born July 23, 1892, near Harer, Ethiopia—died August 27, 1975, Addis Ababa), emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974 who sought to modernize his country and who steered it into the mainstream of post-World War II African politics. He brought Ethiopia into the League of Nations and the United Nations and made Addis Ababa the major centre for the Organization of African Unity (now African Union).

20/31 Steve McQueen

Sir Steven Rodney McQueen CBE (born 9 October 1969) is a British filmmaker and video artist. He is known for his film 12 Years a Slave (2013), a historical adaptation of an 1853 slave narrative memoir, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Picture, the BAFTA Award for Best Film, and the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama, as well as the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director.McQueen is the first black filmmaker to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

21/31 Dido Elizabeth Belle

(1761 – July 1804) was a British heiress and a member of the Lindsay family of Evelix. She was born into slavery; her mother, Maria Belle, was an African slave in the British West Indies.

22/31 Nathaniel Mary Quinn

is an American painter. Quinn is known for his collage-style composite portraits that feature disfigured faces.

23/31 Faith Ringgold

I have quite a few artists and painters I’d love to share whose work and lives have in one way or another inspired me or taught me something. I’ll start with Faith Ringgold and her beautiful, vibrant and provocative art across media – notably, quilt, which she could easily roll up and take wherever she needed without having to rely on her husband to carry her work to a gallery (which for a fervent feminist was completely unacceptable)!

24/31 Diane Abbott, Paul Boateng, Keith Vaz, Bernie Grant and Lord David Pitt

The 1987 first black members of parliament

25/31 Doreen Lawrence

Doreen Delceita Lawrence, Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon, OBE (née Graham; born 24 October 1952) is a British Jamaican campaigner and the mother of Stephen Lawrence, a black British teenager who was murdered in a racist attack in South East London in 1993. She promoted reforms of the police service and founded the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust. She was appointed to the Order of the British Empire for “services to community relations” in 2003; Lawrence was created a Life Peer in 2013. She served as Chancellor of De Montfort University, Leicester from January 2016 to January 2020

26/31 Carmen Medina

Former CIA Deputy Director of Intelligence. A 32-year veteran of the Intelligence Community, she is also the author of Rebels at Work: A Handbook for Leading Change from Within.

27/31 Jamal Edwards, MBE

A British entrepreneur, author, and the founder of the online urban music platform SB.TV. Born in Luton, England on 24 August 1990.

28/31 Louise Da-Cocodia

Born in Jamaica, Louise Da-Cocodia moved to Britain in 1955 to train as a nurse, invited as part of a government overseas recruitment drive to staff the newly formed National Health Service. As a nurse-in-training, she often encountered racism from colleagues and patients. In 1958, Louise Da-Cocodia qualified as a Staff Registered Nurse, and began a nursing career spanning 31 years.

29/31 Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr. ONH

(17 August 1887 – 10 June 1940) was a Jamaican political activist, publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, and orator. He was the founder and first President-General of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL, commonly known as UNIA), through which he declared himself Provisional President of Africa. Ideologically a black nationalist and Pan-Africanist, his ideas came to be known as Garveyism.

30/31 Akala

Kingslee James McLean Daley (born 1 December 1983), better known by the stage name Akala, is a British rapper, journalist, author, activist and poet from Kentish Town, London. In 2006, he was voted the Best Hip Hop Act at the MOBO Awards and has been included on the annual Powerlist of the 100 most influential Black British people in the UK.

31/31 Nelson Mandela

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (/mænˈdɛlə/;[1] Xhosa: [xolíɬaɬa mandɛ̂ːla]; 18 July 1918 – 5 December 2013) was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, political leader and philanthropist who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the country’s first black head of state and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid by tackling institutionalised racism and fostering racial reconciliation. Ideologically an African nationalist and socialist, he served as the president of the African National Congress (ANC) party from 1991 to 1997.

Shared by my colleagues…

Neil deGrasse Tyson

An American astrophysicist, planetary scientist, author, and science communicator

Daryl Davis

An American R&B and blues musician, activist, author, actor and bandleader.[1] His efforts to improve race relations, in which as an African-American he engaged with members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), convinced Klansmen to leave and denounce the KKK.

Misty Copeland

The first African American woman to be promoted to principal ballerina – she’s paving the way for more diversity in classical ballet 

Sir David Adjaye

A Ghanaian-British architect. He has designed buildings around the world, earning international recognition, with his most notable project being the multi-tiered National Museum of African American Arts and Culture in Washington, DC. This year he was awarded the prestigious RIBA royal gold medal which recognises considerable contributions to international architecture. He is the first black recipient in the 173-year history of the award.

Paul Stephenson

(Born 6 May 1937) is a community worker, activist and long-time campaigner for civil rights for the British African-Caribbean community in Bristol, England. As a young social worker, in 1963 Stephenson led a boycott of the Bristol Omnibus Company, protesting against its refusal to employ Black or Asian drivers or conductors.

Emtithal Mahmoud

“A legendary poet who not only inspires my writing but also makes me a better human, overall.” Emtithal Mahmoud is so full of life, sass, sorrow, and just an incredible writer. She speaks up for refugees and shares her story of her childhood in a war-torn country, continuing to blow my mind with her talent!

Michael Jeffrey Jordan

A former American professional basketball player and the principal owner of the Charlotte Hornets of the National Basketball Association (NBA). He played 15 seasons in the NBA, winning six championships with the Chicago Bulls. His biography on the official NBA website states: “By acclamation, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time.”

Betye Saar 

Betye Irene Saar (born July 30, 1926) is an African-American artist known for her work in the medium of assemblage. Saar has been called “a legend” in the world of contemporary art. She is a visual storyteller and an accomplished printmaker. Saar’s work explores both the realities of African-American oppression, and the mysticism of symbols through the combination of everyday found objects.

Viola Davis

An incredible person who started from a troubled upbringing to becoming an award winning actor. She’s the first black actor to win an Emmy, Tony and Oscar for acting roles. 

Have a suggestion of your own? Send it across to as we’re committed to sharing and learning at all times, rather than just one month out of the year!